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ADCS President lambasts ‘profiteering’ private children’s homes

Addressing delegates at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth, John Pearce criticised the level of private profit in children’s social care.

04/12/23

ADCS President lambasts ‘profiteering’ private children’s homes

Addressing delegates at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth, John Pearce, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), criticised private providers of children’s care homes for profiteering.

“It cannot be right that the largest 20 independent providers of children’s social care homes made more than £300 million of profit last year, every penny of which came directly from the public purse,” Pearce told the audience of public sector leaders.

“This isn’t the first time the level of private profit has raised eyebrows, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care both called this out for what it is, profiteering.”

Pearce also pointed to risks associated with private equity models, also highlighted by the CMA and Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, that he said are ultimately driving this profiteering and do nothing to serve the best interests of children.

“We need government to act on this now… Earlier this year ADCS developed an alternative vision for regional care cooperatives… Ultimately, we need a national set of rules to drive a level of transparency through the system that enables local authorities to develop and operate commissioning models which are rooted in the needs of children, rather than shareholders.”

Telling the audience that the rising costs of placements for children are driving financial pressures across local authority children’s services, Pearce warned that more and more councils are facing bankruptcy as a result with no real assistance offered from central government.

“Councils up and down the country are considering their financial future with dread, facing the real prospect of issuing Section 114 notices and the biggest financial risks now lie in the service areas we are responsible for, those we provide to children and adults. Unfortunately, there was no respite or solutions offered in the Autumn Statement.”

“The significant cost pressures on children’s services are in the main driven by either national policy, or the retrenchment of our partners into what they regard as their ‘core’ business.

“In children’s services this will mean moving more funds away from essential early help […] we are not and should not be a blue light service. Government has been promising a new funding formula for years, it’s time to bite the bullet before it’s too late.”

The government recently published its response to the child and family social worker workforce consultation with the ADCS welcoming this as “a positive step in the right direction”. However, Pearce called for the proposals to go further, particularly in regard to the practice of agencies placing entire ‘project teams’.

So-called ‘project teams’ provide a number of practitioners for an agreed period, often with capped caseloads. A previous Department for Education (DfE) report says these teams are increasing their stranglehold on local authorities by restricting their access to individual social workers.

“We would have liked the proposals to go further and continue to see no positive case for members of project teams to have a statutory case holding role… but for the time being, there is a plan which now needs to be implemented at pace.”

Pearce ended his speech urging actions that central government should urgently enact as a ‘minimum’, including setting out national conditions to intervene in the children’s residential care market and revisit the 2014 Children and Families Act and SEN Code of Practice to remove the drivers of demand that have overwhelmed the system.

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